The Intersection between Hobbies and Financial Freedom.
One of the biggest goals my wife and I have is to be financially independent. What I mean by this is having secured enough money to do whatever it is we want with our time. We’d no longer be dependent on any job solely to sustain our livelihood. Make no mistake, the career I’ve had the past ten years has been fulfilling, rewarding and engaging. However, I believe human beings can sometimes stumble into the pitfall of anchoring so much of our self-image and self-perception on what we do for a living. In turn, we ignore or mute other parts of our life that can be equally important in defining who we are. For me, even though I’ve been an educator, I’m also a husband, parent, gamer, and lover of the beautiful game of soccer. I also enjoy traveling, being outside and consider myself a lifelong learner. If I never had to work another day in my life, the above would be my main focus during my remaining time on Earth.
With that in mind, my wife and I began a journey a few years ago pursuing FIRE, which is Financial Independence / Retire Early. We wanted to get to a place where if we wanted to retire, we’d have the financial means to do so without being dependent on a job for our livelihoods. In turn, we can prioritize our time in the ways that we see fit. Whether that be spending time with family, exploring and traveling, volunteering, or pursuing hobbies, FIRE is something that we constantly have in the back of our minds. For the sake of this article, I’m going to write from the assumption that you’re aware of FIRE and its general principles. But for context, FIRE involves these very basic guidelines:
- Avoid debt.
- Set a budget and spend less than what you make.
- Invest the remainder, preferably in low-cost index funds rather than mutual funds or individual stocks.
- Stay the course and don’t let market fluctuations test your resolve.
Rather than prattle on about what I think FIRE is, I will refer you to some fantastic resources that are both entertaining and packed with tons of great learning materials. For an audio format, the Choose FI podcast is wonderful, perfect for commutes or road trips. Mr. Money Mustache is by far one of the most popular bloggers on the topic and has a great sense of humor. If you’re more of a socialite / forum user / redditor, I’d point you to the /r/financialindependence subreddit. If it’s a good old-fashioned book you’re after, Your Money or Your Life, The Simple Path to Wealth and The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing are both great reads (not affiliate links!). These are all great ways to learn more about the FIRE movement. I hope you take the time to use some of these resources because they can be truly empowering in your own life. So, how does this all line up with my interest in gaming?
Gaming and Its Meaning to Me.
From a very young age, video games have been a part of my life. I love the creativeness that games bring. I really enjoy a great story unfolding in front of me, delighting my senses. Exploring the imaginative world of an action game or an RPG is fun. The satisfaction of completing a gripping, suspenseful game is a great feeling. I love to support the smaller studios that bring new innovative gameplay and unique aesthetics to the field. I like the technological innovations that new systems bring. I love revisiting games from my childhood on older systems. If it hasn’t been stated enough, there’s just something wonderful about video games that I deeply appreciate. Some of my favorite series include: The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, The original Halo trilogy, Animal Crossing, and the Team Ico games (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian). I think it’s a hobby that often brings people together, too. Game nights hanging out on the couch with friends is still a pastime that is important to me, though it happens less frequently as I get older.
Yet, I take issue with a few things in the current state of the gaming industry, several of which I think are counterproductive to the goals of FIRE. I’d say the current climate is focused on consumption. It vies for your precious hard-earned dollars. Be it systems, games, or the dreaded in-game purchases, you can drop a fortune on gaming without giving it much thought. There’s the nonsense about games needing day one patches to fix issues that should’ve been resolved before hitting the market. Practices like this make me feel the money I put in isn’t providing a comparative amount of value. I also think it’s horrible that some companies take advantage of their employees, forcing them to work extremely long hours during crunch time before a game’s scheduled release date. However, even with my minor gripes about the industry, I still show my love of video games by purposely not supporting studios and companies whose practices are abusing consumers’ trust. To that I say: vote with your wallet.
Personally, I used to frequently buy games on release day or shortly after, paying the full retail price for games. Sometimes carelessly and without much mindfulness, I could easily drop a few hundred dollars on games I was excited to play. When the new gaming systems came out, I’d eagerly pick one up, seldom waiting for a price drop or Black Friday deal. These were moments in my early twenties where living in the moment was my focus. Amassing a huge collection of games as quickly as possible seemed exciting. I allowed my spending to get the best of me, and setting a budget often wasn’t something in the back of my mind. Sometimes, I think I was operating from my own fear of missing out. There were times I’d lose my sense of time to the point of affecting my overall wellness. I learned I needed to set limits on how frequently I played. It took a while, but I needed to establish some healthier habits involving my time and money.
Financial Independence with a Gaming Approach.
Do we as gamers not seek to master the games we play? Of course we do — we look for secrets, tips, and tricks to gain an advantage against the AI or another player. We’re constantly seeking more efficient ways to solve problems or puzzles, or easier solutions to the boss we’ve been stuck on. We like those achievements and trophies that pop up along the way. We might also consult a guide or FAQ when we get stuck. Thinking about my finances as a video game, I considered some critical details about my financial life. I had five figures of student loan debt after graduating in 2008. Over a span of five years, I set a goal, timeline and budget to aggressively pay off my student loans and get out of debt. This is where Dave Ramsey’s Budgeting Forms and Debt Snowball was really influential. My key takeaways here were setting a budget, developing strong habits of self-discipline around spending, and keeping my goals in mind. By November 2013, just shy of five years after graduating from university, I became debt free. Shortly after, my wife and I had to buy a new car just before our wedding. We did take on a small car loan but didn’t incur debt for our wedding or honeymoon. We used the same approach as we did with my student loans to pay off our car quickly. In full transparency, we were each making around $30,000 a year in our mid to late twenties.
Soon after, still newlyweds and newly debt-free, we realized there was much to be learned about the world of retirement savings. It’s amazing we’re never given much of a personal finance education, especially considering how much of the investing world tends to be laden with jargon and confusing details. Dave Ramsey’s expertise, though excellent guidance for paying off student loan debt, wasn’t necessarily geared toward FIRE. I read a few introductory books like The Millionaire Next Door and The Richest Man in Babylon (both great for philosophy and principles), but the most influential and step-by-step resource book on retirement investing proved to be The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. This ignited our thirst for more knowledge and brought us to other resources like the ChooseFI podcast, Mr. Money Mustache, Paula Pant’s Afford Anything, Go Curry Cracker, and more. It really started to feel like there was a lot of knowledge here that we could apply and fine tune in our lives. From the many resources above and fellow people within the FI community pursuing the same goal, it felt like we were tapping into a strategy guide toward a financially independent future.
From the insights gained, we really honed our strategy over the next few years. We could have easily chosen to indulge more with our hobbies (me – gaming, my wife – photography), traveling, eating out, or purchasing other consumer goods. All of the money I had been throwing at loans for the past five years wasn’t allocated to anything now. This is where the FIRE journey truly began, and how I started to look at this like a video game. We scrutinized our budgets and cut a lot of the excess. We adopted an aggressive strategy towards our retirement savings. This entailed how much we wanted to invest each year and investing that money into low-cost index funds as opposed to actively managed mutual funds. In many ways, our pursuit of FIRE felt like taking a complex problem or puzzle, not unlike one you would find in a video game, and applying strategies to reach our goals. However, real life doesn’t necessarily mirror the speed of progression you find in a video game. Real life moves far more slowly, more incrementally. It can be hard to see your own progress and easy to lose sight of the big picture, so it’s important to find tools that help you keep track. Personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of tracking performance and progress, usually through our budgets, spreadsheets, and graphs. With our goals clearly defined and practices in place to help us reach a financially independent future, I wanted to examine my gaming hobby and wondered if I could apply similar strategies.
Applying a Financial Independence mindset to Gaming.
Here’s how I’ve applied a FIRE mindset to gaming. I set specific goals for spending and firmly stick to my budget. The habits I’ve built around delayed gratification and avoiding impulse purchases have been key to my success. I have found I enjoy gaming more when I am selective about what I purchase. I usually skip release day; but if there’s a game or two I buy at full price, I do it through Gamer’s Club Unlocked (RIP, the program has since been discontinued by Best Buy), which offers a 20% discount. I frequently seek out and wait for deals, like the Summer Steam Sale or Black Friday, or I simply wait until I can find a game used where it will usually be heavily discounted. I’ve learned to refurbish and resell games and gain a reasonable profit to fund my purchases. I’ve become much more cognizant about how frequently I game and how long individual sessions last. I’ve learned to be much more efficient with the time I have and be intentional about what I want to play. I think all of these strategies have become even more important because of two key factors: I’m now a stay at home parent and we are currently a single income household. Both our financial resources and our time are a bit more limited.
While being a stay-at-home parent is definitely a full-time, demanding job, it’s undoubtedly changed how I view my time. It has felt like a sabbatical from the grind of a 9 to 5 job. Even further, this experience has felt like a glimpse at life when perhaps both my wife and I are FIRE’d. I’m getting to take care of a tiny little human dependent on me for his every need, but with that I’m also getting to enjoy lots of little moments: taking him to story time, going to the park, and watching him learn and play. That’s time in his life I otherwise would’ve missed out on had I been working full-time. I’m also enjoying this amazing opportunity to spend time in between his needs doing what I want, even if gaming is obviously taking a backseat. We’re valuing our health, exercising regularly and I’m cooking healthy meals during the week. Likely when our son begins school, I’ll jump back into the workforce and we’ll have two incomes to use to better our financial future and achieve FIRE. My point is that for these past five months, I’ve had control over my time. I’ve been able to make choices that have led to a healthier, more balanced me. So, what has gaming looked like this year, you ask?
The past several months with limited time and money has made me more appreciative of the time I do spend gaming. I’m still getting the opportunity to enjoy video games from time to time (occasionally when kiddo is napping but mainly when he is put to bed for the evening), be it visiting my local arcade down the street or firing up my Switch for an hour or so to unwind a couple evenings a week. This has been a refreshing experience because I can actually look forward to sitting down and enjoying a game with some very real finite time limits in place. In the past, gaming was a mindless activity that occupied my time and (occasionally) teetered towards the unhealthy side. In some ways I think spending my own money on games meant feeling obligated to play them, even when my enjoyment started to fade. It was a vicious cycle I don’t care to repeat. I don’t see myself going back towards overindulging; I am appreciative of the balance I’ve found and want to stick with it.
Similarly, I’ve yet to spend a single dollar of my own money this year on gaming, which is a goal I set each year and helps keep FIRE front and center. I still enjoy the games I have. In fact, I’ve beaten 9 games this year already, and only purchased 3. I have ditched the collecting aspect that sometimes goes hand in hand with gaming, playing games that have been in my backlog instead. My point is, you can enjoy gaming immensely and it doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby. It can actually be a pretty affordable source of entertainment. So if you’re pursuing FIRE, are already financially independent and/or retired, or simply trying to reel in your gaming-related spending and stick to a budget, there are plenty of ways to enjoy gaming without impacting your budget, bank account, or retirement savings.
Closing: Gaming and our Financially Independent Future.
When we achieve FIRE some time in the future, I am hopeful I’ll still be interested in video games as a hobby. When that day arrives, I plan to continue keeping a budget and finding clever ways to help keep costs on gaming to a minimum. As long as the hobby is still affordable, gaming shouldn’t be an issue. I’m looking forward to the satisfaction of completing new games, revisiting past favorites, hosting game nights, playing games with my children, and discussing them online and in person. I’m trying to keep an open mind; I might not enjoy the hobby as much as I did when I was younger, and that’s okay.
Still, it’s exciting to picture a life where a full-time job/career isn’t occupying the majority of my week. Instead, we can explore, travel, spend time with family, play games, play soccer (c’mon knees, stay healthy!) learn new things, whatever it is we want to do. Those prospects are really the driving force for the future we want to build. To accomplish our dream of FIRE, we’ve been making some deliberate and intentional choices now. To reiterate, those include saving an aggressive percentage of our income, being frugal and budget conscious (reducing our cost of living), and avoiding impulsive spending that could set us back from our goals. It’s a constant exercise in delaying gratification and being disciplined about how we spend our money. I’ve found a lot of enjoyment and challenge in my very own Tightwad Gaming side-quest. Exploring ways, tips, and tricks or hacks to make my gaming hobby affordable helps me keep FIRE in mind while also not feeling like I’m living a life of squalor or deprivation.
Overall, I have to say the path to FIRE has been a great adventure so far. I’m sure there will be lots of great lessons along the way and wonderful people we can learn from and swap stories with. I’ve shared a lot about our journey, but would love to hear your own thoughts. Are you pursuing FIRE? Are you also a gamer? Had a question to ask? I’d love to hear from you!